Last week, alleged herdsmen armed with rapid-fire guns and machetes descended on the Ukpabi Nimbo community in Enugu State, killing and maiming scores of victims. Images of heaped corpses, including children, hospitalized survivors with cuts and gashes, and the charred remains of burnt homes were widely circulated on social media. I’d suggest that public repulsion and outrage ran at close to boiling point.
The “official” reaction was rather predictable and in character. Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State went to the scene of the carnage, accompanied by the top police officer in the state and heads of other security agencies. As his entourage moped at the devastated landscape, the governor lowered his head, covered his face, and wept.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s response came in the cold form of two statements released two days after the horrific attacks. At a book launch where he represented the president, Information Minister Lai Mohammed disclosed that Mr. Buhari condemned “in the strongest terms the attacks by herdsmen in Enugu State on Monday” and “deeply [sympathized] with those who lost their lives as well as those who lost their property.
The president also “directed the Chief of Army Staff and the Inspector General of Police to secure all communities under attacks by herdsmen and to go after the groups terrorizing innocent people all over the country. This government will not allow these attacks to continue.”
The same day, the president’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, released another statement that expressed similar soporific sentiments. It read: “Following continuing reports of attacks by ‘herdsmen’ on communities across the country, particularly Monday’s attack on Ukpabi Nimbo in Enugu State, President Muhammadu Buhari assures all Nigerians, once again, of his administration’s continued commitment to ensuring the safety of lives and property in all parts of the country.
“President Buhari unreservedly condemns the attack on Ukpabi Nimbo and other such acts of extreme violence against communities in other states of the Federation.
“Acting on the president’s directive, the Inspector-General of Police and heads of the nation’s other security agencies are already taking urgent steps to fully investigate the attacks, apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
“Ending the recent upsurge of attacks on communities by herdsmen reportedly armed with sophisticated weapons is now a priority on the Buhari Administration’s agenda for enhanced national security and the Armed Forces and Police have clear instructions to take all necessary action to stop the carnage.
“In keeping with the President’s directive, the Inspector-General of Police, the General Officer Commanding the 82nd Division of the Nigerian Army and the Director of the Department of State Security in Enugu State have visited Ukpabi Nimbo to personally oversee investigations into the attack on the community and ongoing efforts to apprehend the culprits.
“Meanwhile, President Buhari is scheduled to meet with Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi later today to receive further briefing on the attack on Ukpabi Nimbo and discuss additional measures to forestall similar attacks and restore public confidence.
“The President urges all Nigerians to remain calm and assured of his administration’s readiness to deploy all required personnel and resources to remove this new threat to the collective security of the nation.”
Gubernatorial tears and recycled presidential statements won’t suffice. Nigerians are accustomed to their rulers’ occasional acts of Nollywoodesque tearfulness. The question is: After the wailing, what concrete steps ever follow? Governor Ugwuanyi has cried. I’d say, Biko, wipe your tears. What you owe to the memory of the hapless, defenseless victims of the Nimbo slaughter is to come up with measures to protect the lives and property of the people under your watch.
If the presidential statement was designed to allay anxiety and calm Nigerians’ nerves, I am afraid it had the opposite effect. The language lacked any depth of spirit, and came across as something dusted up and photocopied, a pronouncement that did not proceed from the heart.
Read closely, the statement, far from being reassuring, exposed how screwed up Nigeria is. This was not the first time the so-called herdsmen had wreaked havoc on Nigerians. They’d allegedly abducted Olu Falae, a former Secretary to the Federal Government and former presidential candidate. They had turned Agatu, in Benue State, into a killing field. With all the security agencies maintained by the Nigerian state—and reporting to President Buhari—did the “herdsmen” have to kill one more soul before a presidential order was issued to rein them in?
It’s no secret that many herdsmen now traverse Nigeria, their machine guns openly exhibited. Why have security agencies turned a blind eye to this open evidence of lawlessness, this clear threat to unarmed others? The herdsmen are accused of killing hundreds of Nigerians over the last few months.
Given this reality, it struck me as a case of morbid insensitivity that the presidential spokesman should begin his speech by “[assuring] all Nigerians, once again, of [the Mr. Buhari] administration’s continued commitment to ensuring the safety of lives and property in all parts of the country.”
I found other aspects of the president’s statement equally troubling. One was the revelation that the president had instructed the country’s security agencies “to take all necessary action to stop the carnage.” The other, that “in keeping with the President’s directive, the Inspector-General of Police, the General Officer Commanding the 82nd Division of the Nigerian Army and the Director of the Department of State Security in Enugu State have visited Ukpabi Nimbo to personally oversee investigations into the attack on the community and ongoing efforts to apprehend the culprits.”
Do senior law enforcement and security officials have to wait on presidential directives to discharge their constitutional responsibilities? Did they fold their arms after what happened at Agatu, after Mr. Falae’s abduction, and even two days after the homicidal infestation in Nimbo—awaiting presidential orders? To be taken seriously on his commitment to Nigerians’ security, Mr. Buhari ought to fire those top security and law enforcement officials who dozed on duty, permitting the “herdsmen” to consolidate their awful arsenal.
Last week, Governor Ugwuanyi met with President Buhari. I bet the governor told the president what he later told the residents of his state: that he had received intelligence before the attack, and had summoned a security meeting that was attended by the Enugu State Commissioner of Police, a top Army officer, and the head of the Department of State Security (DSS). According to the governor, all the security chiefs had assured him that their officers or agents had been deployed in the threatened community. Despite these assurances, a mere few hours after the security meeting ended, the people of Nimbo were unprotected as a hail of bullets and machetes besieged them.
Clearly, some people whose job it was to protect fellow Nigerians shirked their duties. They allowed lawless herdsmen to flaunt and use guns and other deadly weapons. It is not enough to launch the kind of cynical investigation that is soon forgotten—precisely because, in Nigeria, impunity, violence and senseless death are all but norms. Those who failed at their duty—and therefore exposed innocent people to horrific death, injury and bereavement—should pay a price. To begin with, they should be fired.
Mr. Buhari has a burden to act, because mere speech won’t serve. He should demonstrate a belief that actions—or the failure to act in the proper manner—have consequences.